Twelve marine and environmental studies graduate students from the Middle East and Europe are taking part in a two-week Mediterranean research project off the shores of La Spezia, Italy, to protect the unique ecosystem shared by countries that might not typically have relations.

The project, which began on Sunday and is called “Environmental Impacts Know No Boundaries,” hosts graduate students from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Malta, Lebanon, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the UK, according to Israeli conservation NGO EcoOcean, one of the sponsoring organizations behind the venture.

EcoOcean worked together with Italian organization Environmental Ocean-Team, as part of an overall initiative to bring the region’s scientists together to find solutions for an often-threatened ocean habitat, the Israeli group said in a statement.

Providing students with a realtime sea laboratory to perform studies and explorations, the project is being hosted by the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development.

“Environmental issues many times transcend national borders and political restrictions,” said Daniel Schaeffer, director of EcoOcean, in a statement. “To develop and protect marine and coastal ecosystems, such as within and around the Mediterranean Sea, we must promote cooperation in marine research and management between nations.”

The first week is entirely landbased and includes a string of workshops on different topics connected to marine science, Schaeffer explained to The Jerusalem Post by phone on Thursday, from Italy.

“The students are giving each afternoon their own presentations on their own topics of research,” he said.

The majority of the students are currently pursuing doctorates, while a few are pursuing master’s degrees. All are enjoying learning from each other in this “neutral” and “comfortable” Italian setting, according to Schaeffer.

Despite coming from very different cultures, the students live together in the same rooms, four students per room, and eat dinner together. While politics has naturally been discussed at the table, the subject has not been a deterrent for scientific cooperation, he explained.

“This is our pilot project, and up till now it has been fantastic. It has been quite incredible,” Schaeffer said. “You get capable, intelligent people sitting together – sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing about things – but it’s done through talk and discussion.”

When the week of lectures concludes with a trip to the aquarium of Genoa on Thursday afternoon, the students and some of the professors will embark on their searesearch journey this weekend.

Six students will board each boat, and have the opportunity to change boats – each of which will have different focuses – during the week, according to Schaeffer.

“The impression is that they’re really hitting it off nicely,” said Prof.

Sven Beer of Tel Aviv University, who accompanied the students to Genoa on Thursday. “They’re happy and they’re learning a lot – they’re also learning about each other’s cultures.”

Research on the first boat will be led jointly by the Center for Support and Testing of the Italian Navy and by Prof. Gianni Pavan from the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioacoustics of the University of Pavia, who is studying the migration of sea mammals in the Ligurian Sea between Corsica and Italy.

The second boat will involve “basic water profiling, very scientific type of work,” as part of research conducted by Dr. John Allen of the National Oceanography Center of Southampton, in the UK, Schaeffer explained.

Other researchers involved in the project include Dr. Roberto Meloni, retired head of the Italian Antarctic Expedition and Environmental Ocean Team; Dr. Paola Picco of the ENEA; Dr. Ilana Berman-Frank of Bar Ilan University; and Emilio Tesi, director of Environmental Ocean Team.

Berman-Frank and Picco, along with Beer from Tel Aviv University, coordinated the program.

“Science doesn’t understand what a political border is,” Schaeffer said. “This is basically the idea behind this whole project. Pollution or air or wind or sea currents, don’t stop when they reach the Israeli-Lebanese border.”

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